Analyzing literary works by Voltaire, Choderlos de Laclos, and others, treatises of moral philosophy, and military writings from Vauban to Napoleon, this dissertation explores the dialectics between military culture and the literatures, ideologies, and practices of “enlightenment.” This examination of period theories, practices, and representations of warfare reveals that war, military strategy, and tactics formed a meta-discourse central to the Enlightenment, having remarkably pervasive influences on French culture and serving as crucial frameworks for developing modern ideas about human nature, selfhood, and rights. The dissertation also shows how, inversely, Enlightenment discourses of sensibility, sociability, and human rights strongly shaped military thought and practice ushering in a culture of war based upon individual rights, self-expression, passion, and patriotism as well as an expanded consciousness of the cost of war on societies and on the human mind, body, and heart. Taking the form of an interdisciplinary history of the culture of war in France over the long eighteenth century (1650-1815), the dissertation is a work in the burgeoning academic discipline of the Culture of War, an area of study that delineates a cultural field of warfare in order to analyze the profound and complex ways in which the military sphere interacts with art, society, and individuals.
The first chapter explores predominant elements of the culture of war of the seventeenth century. I posit the philosophical framework of technicity—the technologization of the world and the human being—to have been a principal underpinning of the early-modern aristocratic ethos of war and the epistemological foundation for Louis XIV's “guerre de cabinet.” The latter was a system of war that squelched feudal heroism and debilitated officers' agency in war, in large part triggering France's military crisis of the eighteenth century.
The second chapter examines the production of philosophers and literary thinkers in response to Louis XIV's devastating wars. In this, I argue that there were two main approaches to contemplating war. On the one hand was the moralist perspective that condemned war, an approach perpetuated by Voltaire that is well-known to scholars. On the other hand was a lesser-known pragmatic perspective, one displayed in novels of worldliness that detailed multifarious manifestations and processes of war in order to reveal the connection between warfare and the ability to assert one's individuality and freedom.
The third chapter analyses the intellectual production of military thinkers who attributed France's military crisis to social, moral, and cultural depravity in the army, targeting nefarious elements of “mondanité” manifest in the aristocratic culture of war in the post-“guerre de cabinet” period. These thinkers, I contend, turned towards a French Enlightenment moral philosophy that combined theories of natural law, sociability, and salon etiquette for more productive ways of thinking and behaving in the army, ones that would be conducive of human equality, brotherly respect, and mutualistic interdependence.
The fourth chapter explains how military reformers appropriated the discourse of “sensibilité” and human rights. They advanced pioneering ideas concerning military psychology and the military power endemic to human emotion and the ardent French national character, planting roots of the natural tactics and passionate patriotism that would blossom during the Revolution.
The epilogue offers insight into the broader implications of this dissertation, for the comprehension of French Enlightenment society, for understanding military policy in the revolutionary and Napoleonic periods, and for the genesis of war and subjectivity as we know them.